Part of the magic of Montréal is a delightful balance of both French and English character. Beneath its picturesque, Parisian-inspired architecture, it even has an Underground City; and no, that’s not the nickname of the Village and its wild nightclubs—it’s a sprawling indoor complex that helps locals withstand the city’s frigid winters and sultry summers.
Montréal is one of the world's most LGBT-friendly cities, underscored when Québec became the first Canadian province to recognize same-sex civil unions way back in 2002. Remember when that was a monumental event? One might argue that that milestone ignited the tremendous successes of the international marriage equality movement, with Canada the fourth country overall to legalize same-sex marriage in 2005.
“Montréal's LGBT community is known for its colorful events and parade spectaculars,” says Tourism Montréal's Jérémie Gabourg. “The unique ambience of the Gay Village draws crowds all year round, LGBT or not. The city itself charms with its strong European flair and its relaxed, receptive nature, uniting people of all persuasions.”
The magic of la métropole (Montréal’s French nickname, as in “the metropolis”) is for the taking. The city welcomes millions of tourists annually, while retaining its true colors. A visit to the port district of Old Montréal (Vieux-Montréal), for example, sends you down narrow cobblestone streets past well-preserved buildings dating as far back as the 17th century. But in and among those historic sites are fabulously refurbished hotels, trendy nightclubs and restaurants, and, of course, plenty of shops loaded with trademark fleur-de-lis souvenirs in every form.
Montréal is an easy-access city, to boot. Its Trudeau International Airport is a short cab ride or easy shuttle bus ride away. The city led the public bike-share trend when it launched BIXI (montreal.bixi.com) in 2009, plus it has great mass transit led by the affordable Métro system.
So where to begin a trip to Canada’s “City of Saints”? For lesbian and gay travelers, the Gay Village is the place to shack up. All around the main thoroughfare known as Saint Catherine Street (rue Sainte-Catherine), hotels of virtually all sizes and price ranges abound.
“To me, one of Montréal’s greatest assets is the main drag’s LGBT section—St. Catherine Street East—being turned over to pedestrians from May to September,” says Gabourg. “It feels like Gay Pride all summer long, with a really intimate, community vibe to it all.”
The Hôtel Gouverneur (Place Dupuis, 1415 St Hubert St., 888-910-1111, gouverneur.com) is the most polished, as well as the tallest, and therefore boasts the best views of the harbor and downtown skyline. But there are plenty of smaller inns and B&Bs, too, like Aubergell Bed & Breakfast (1641 Amherst St., 514-597-0878, aubergell.com).
Closer to the City Centre, Hotel 10 (10 Sherbrooke Ouest, 514-843-6000, hotel10montreal.com) brings modern interiors and plenty of gay pride to the fore. It offers special promotions in partnership with Strom Spa (1001 Boulevard de la Forêt, 514-761-2772, stromspa.com), located on the quiet Nun’s Island (Île de Soeurs).
Speaking of spas, a unique relaxation experience awaits at Bota Bota (358 rue de la Commune Ouest, 514-284-0333, botabota.ca/en). Opened in 2010, this innovative floating spa occupies a retired ferryboat, now moored on the St. Lawrence River. On its multiple levels, open-air decks, and a surrounding lawn of shady hammocks, you’ll find new meaning in the term “water circuit” as you drift between immaculate whirlpools and steam baths.
Once you’re all loose and warm, head back to the Village to explore that famous Canadian queer hospitality. Feast on delicious Greek fare by Ella Grill (1237 Amherst, 514-523-5553, facebook.com/EllaGrill), a chic lesbian-owned Mediterranean restaurant that hosts nightly events and summer tea dances.
No visit to Montréal is complete without a night (or many) at Le Drugstore (1366 St. Catherine Est, 514-524-1960, ledrugstore.com), the Village’s six-story bar and club that is so spacious it’s like hitting a slew of clubs in one pass, including outdoor terraces and separate dance floors. Check its calendar to find out what fun is on during your trip.
Similar to Le Drugstore but a bit more trendy is Sky (1474 St. Catherine Est, 514-529-6969, complexesky.com), another multi-level club in the heart of the Village. Or for something more, let’s say, spicy, check out “Montréal’s sexiest theme party” Cirque de Boudoir (cirquedeboudoir.com), often held at Le Belmont (4483 Blvd. Saint Laurent, 514-845-8443, lebelmont.com.)
While Montréal has hosted its fair share of lesbian parties, like in most cities those soirées can appear and then suddenly disappear, including the monthly Meow Mix party at La Sala Rossa (4848 Blvd. Saint Laurent, 514-844-4227, lasalarossa.com). Check out Canadian resources DailyXtra.com, the French-language Fugues.com (translated online), or the city’s impressive event pages at Tourisme-Montreal.org for the latest queer event listings.
In recent years, the Mile End neighborhood has given the LGBT set an alternative to the Village. With plenty of streets to stroll and shops to discover, the ‘hood is best known for Fairmount Bagel (74 Fairmont Ouest, 514-272-0667, fairmountbagel.com), a Montréal institution since 1919 and the best place to try one of the city’s favorite sesame-coated staples.
Stop by the Royal Phoenix (5788 Blvd. St. Laurent, 514-658-1622, royalphoenixbar.com), one of the newer queer joints on the scene, to load up on poutine (Montréal’s deliciously indulgent fries with gravy and cheese curds) or lighter brunch or dinner fare, and stay for various fun and LGBT events by night.
Around the corner find cute homo-happy bar Notre Dame des Quilles (32 Beaubien Est, 514-507-1313, facebook.com/notredamedesquilles), commonly called NDQ. Its name translates to “Our Lady of Bowling” thanks to the two old-school bowling lanes inside. Don’t miss the Sunday night Lipster karaoke, where you can belt your favorite hipster songs in the company of sexy Montréalers keen to share insider tips on their city.
Montréal is home to many fantastic long-running annual events, including Montréal Pride (fiertemontrealpride.com/en) each August, with all manner of arts and culture, sports, community and other social events—including the yearly Dyke March each Saturday of Pride weekend. A few weeks prior, check out Divers/Cité (diverscite.org), an LGBT arts and music festival that produces big indoor and outdoor concerts and amazing parties with top international DJs. Image+Nation (image-nation.org), the city’s LGBT film festival held every November/December, is another top draw for its programming of local and international works by tomorrow’s great filmmakers.
Early summer sunshine heralds the world-renowned Montréal International Jazz Festival (montrealjazzfest.com). Marking its 35th year this June, the 2014 festival brings to the stage an incredible array of artists like Rufus Wainwright, Michael Bublé, Diana Ross, Beck, Dianne Reeves and scores more.
And don’t miss Contemporary Arts Museum of Montréal (185 St. Catherine Ouest, 514-847-6226, macm.org) Canada’s pre-eminent museum of contemporary culture. The Montréal Museum of Fine Arts (1380 Sherbrooke Ouest, 514-285-2000, mbam.qc.ca/en), founded in 1860, is one of the country’s most celebrated, with remarkable renovations to its historic structure that continue to expand its collections.
It’s a rare city that pulls together such a spectrum of appeal—from old-world charm and modern culture, to diverse arts and entertainment for every taste and genre, to a wonderful sense of familiar flavors and new discovery. Montréal wishes you bienvenue!